For as long as I am aware, I have had a hearing loss (of about 30%). I was seven when before it was properly diagnosed. Before that it was simply assumed that I was just a bit thick. I didn't seem to be able to follow instructions or take in information. I had subconciously learnt to watch the lips of people talking to me. Social interaction was more difficult, catching names and game rules. I learnt to hate saying 'What?' or 'Pardon?' (to 'grown-ups'). The first one was okay but asking for repetition a second or third time became horribly awkward. I never used to ask a fourth time. I'd just pretend to understand and try to work it out later, maybe by steering the conversation round again. I became a voracious reader, retreating into a world of perfect clarity and easy understanding. I became reticent in groups and rarely spoke out unless I was sure that what I had to say was not incongruous, redundent or even ridiculous given what had already been said before.

When I was eleven I was prescribed with hearing aids. Technology had progressed to the point where they could be fitted behind the ear. For the first time I had a volume control on the world, and I turned it up. Although I could now hear a pin drop if I wanted, everything else got turned up too. The world became full of buzzy, unnatural noise. A cough could make me flinch. I went to secondary school, became more self-conscious, and slowly gave up on the aids. A strange thing is that if you have glasses people presume you're clever or bookish. If you've got hearing aids you're just dumb. So, I learnt to avoid noisy environments, sit at the front, and second guess what people were saying and if they had cracked a joke, to laugh. Not to laugh would have been too awkward.

I managed without the aids through the rest of school and through university. Only when I started work did I really have problems. Picking up the crucial information mumbled from the other end of bays and large tables in a buzzy office environment became near impossible. I once accepted an assignment in a meeting without understanding what it was. By this time (about a year ago) technology had moved on again. Now there were programmable digital aids available which could actually be inserted into the ear canal and customised to my own hearing loss profile. I don't take them out of the office generally. In a pub I'm fine. People sit closer, face-to-face and tend to speak loud enough.

I think I became more alert to situations because of my hearing deficiency. I tuned in to body language and voice intonation much more and developed 'an ear' for context.

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